The Metal Children

A teen novel turns a Midwest community upside down in Adam Rapp's dark comedy.

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  • TEXT APPEAL Crudup, left, gets a visit from Bible-thumper Betsy Aidem.

TEXT APPEAL Crudup, left, gets a visit from Bible-thumper Betsy Aidem.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

The novelist stereotypically regards himself as God, a somewhat justifiable illusion: Authors direct, design, perform and stage-manage the show all by themselves. To judge from Adam Rapp’s latest work, a sour-hearted satire called The Metal Children, the writer-director might be suffering from similar delusions: His stand-in, young-adult novelist Tobin Falmouth (Crudup), is revered like a prophet, and his writings form the basis of a revolutionary society. Messiah complex alert!

Actually, messy complex is a more accurate diagnosis, since the new play is an unsatisfying jumble of genres and themes rendered in language that ranges from vivid, visceral speeches to expository, on-the-nose clunkers. The play has a bit of everything. There’s literary-world humor, as the depressed and cynical Tobin pines for artistic cred. When he visits a Midwestern hamlet that has banned one of his novels (also titled The Metal Children), we get city-versus-town jokes. A group of fundamentalist-Christian vigilante teens are patrolling the streets wearing Porky Pig masks, so there’s also paranoid suspense. Lastly, the play is a sympathetic portrait of the tortured artist: Tobin is creatively blocked, his wife has left him, and he succumbs to a determined teen’s steely seduction. The girl (Phoebe Strole) is one of several who are deliberately getting pregnant and starting a matriarchal commune inspired by the forbidden book. Among the many worthwhile subjects Rapp explores is the delicate, symbiotic relationship between profane and sacred texts, and how one transforms into the other. But despite the tale’s often leisurely pacing and plentiful talk, the idea never digs in enough to blossom.

Having followed Rapp’s career for a decade, I’m impatient to see him fulfill his promise as a writer of substantial, well-crafted dramas. Tackling censorship, authorial intent, abortion, teen pregnancy and religious intolerance, The Metal Children comes closer; but still, the wait continues.

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Vineyard Theatre. Written and directed by Adam Rapp. With Billy Crudup. 2hrs 20mins. One intermission.

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